CHINA’S EV CHARGING INFRASTRUCTURE: AMBITIONS AND CHALLENGES

Author: Adrian de Riz

China is the market leader in manufacturing and sales of electric vehicles (EVs) – however, an appropriate infrastructure for EV charging is a critical success factor for the long-term transition to e-mobility. Together with its goal to have 5 million EVs on Chinese roads by 2020, the Chinese government plans to have 4,8 million charging piles installed by 2020.[1] The following chart shows charging point operators that are most prominent in the Chinese online space:

Online prominence of major charging point operators

The State Grid Cooperation, a Chinese state-owned enterprise, has the monopoly on highway EV charging.[2] Off the highway, charging infrastructure mostly consists of charging stations operated by private companies. Individual home chargers and public-private partnerships (PPPs) complete the picture.

Currently, China has around 300,000 public charging piles which are available for all EV users.[3] Additionally, 240,000 private charging piles were registered in 2017.[4] As the following chart shows, the number of EVs on Chinese roads by far exceeds the number of public charging stations available. To reach the target ratio of 1:1, China has to either intensively build up new public charging stations or look for alternative charging solutions.

Cumulative EV sales vs. charging piles

Private solutions are too clustered and isolated for large-scale adoption

Many private companies are spotting the opportunity, converting fuel stations and installing charging piles in shopping mall parking spots. However, their solutions also still need to reach mass acceptance amongst consumers. The following extracts from Weibo discuss current shortcomings of the charging infrastructure in China:

在新能源汽车不断发力,越来越多的消费者也愿意选择电动汽车出行的现实下,记者在前不久的调查走访中却发现:买车容易充电难,“有车无桩”、“充电桩安装物管设卡”……等等问题,时至今日,仍然困扰着不少新能源车使用的车主-“

Buying an EV in China is easy, but charging it is difficult. Too few charging piles and too many different charging membership cards.

First of all, most private providers have no interfaces with the governments or between each other. Their solutions are proprietary and often idle.[4] Customers need to register, pay a deposit for each single provider and carry a collection of member cards with them. This fragmentation complicates the usage of EVs in China and stops many consumers from trusting and adopting the new technology:

现在北京的充电桩基本都是在某个很偏很难找的停车场里,要不然是商场的地下停车场。充电桩不够用,找到了充电桩不一定能用,单个车占用充电桩时间长,都是需要解决的问题。如果可以做到有餐饮,休息室,娱乐,甚至可以做到保姆式充电(进了停车场交了钥匙有人帮你充电,车主可以去上班购物,电充好后有 ​-

Its very hard to find EV charging stations in Beijing, one option are underground parking spots in shopping centers. You can drop off your vehicle to an assistant and go shopping or eating while your car is looked after.

Second, urban parking space, which lends itself well for EV charging, is too pricy for private companies. Therefore, most private charging stations are found outside the city center. Thus, drivers are often required to take an additional drive to charge their vehicles outside the city center.[5]

All in all, creating customer value in the private EV charging industry in China is challenging. The research found two possible ways, for private companies to improve their value offerings in China, home charging and private-public partnerships (PPP). These two strategies are presented below.

Homecharging as an alternative for selected wealthy EV owners

Due to the complicated Chinese charging landscape, wealthy EV owners often opt for a private charging pile at home. The following citations illustrate a very positive consumer sentiment towards home chargers.

“我家买的新能源汽车 车库里安装的充电桩 还是挺方便的[嘻嘻-“

My family bought an EV together with a private charging pile in our garage, it is really convenient.

“30万(补贴后的)以上的车,是给有固定停车位(电桩)的人设计的。通常不要求牺牲电池寿命快充,他晚上可以慢慢充,白天通勤足够用。-“

Most cars that are over 300k RMB (after subsidies) are designed for people with private charging piles, who don’t need the fast charging ports, because they can charge their vehicles over the entire night.

Homecharging might not yet be the most common charging option, but it most definitely shows a higher sentiment than the current publicly available charging stations [6]:

Sentiment and frequency for home and public charging

Despite the positive sentiment, homecharging is not a universal solution to the charging infrastructure issue:

“去查一下现在买新能源车的有几个人有专用充电桩的!很多老小区的的居民根本不符合买新能源车的条件,一个个要么拖电线飞电线引发火灾,要么纯当汽油车开,这算什么环保?-“

Most new EV owners now purchase private dedicated charging piles. However, most of the old community members have not the means to buy their own charging infrastructure.

Homecharging levies the heavy investment of the charging pile on the private customer – naturally, not every EV owner can afford purchasing and maintaining his own station. Therefore, the buildup of public charging stations is still necessary and will ensure a wide availability of charging piles for the average consumer.

Private-public partnerships to boost charging across the country

Especially the less wealthy provinces are facing heavy financial burdens, which stops them from achieving the charging infrastructure goals set for 2020.The map below shows the total amount of public charging stations in each region as of the end of 2018.[3] The black dots show an extract of current private-public partnerships for EV infrastructure in China.[8] Especially provinces like Guizhou, which are lagging behind the agenda, or poorer regions like Anhui benefit from these projects.

Charging piles and PPPs per province

There is yet no unified framework for PPPs in the EV charging infrastructure. The main objective is to share costs, risks and revenues between public and private partners. The public partner is often responsible for allocating suitable land plots, integrating the piles into the online charging platform and obtaining the construction permission. The private partner generally holds the responsibility for the technical execution of the project. While PPPs are a promising path to build up charging infrastructure in the future, strong government ties will most certainly favor Chinese companies and foreign companies with Chinese JVs, as had already been seen in the case of TGOOD.[8]

Opportunities ahead in the Chinese EV charging landscape

An extensive and mature charging infrastructure is required to realize a mass adoption of EVs. Charging point operators from China and abroad can capitalize on this opportunity in two ways – by winning over Chinese consumers through strong branding and home charging solutions or by partnering with government stakeholders via private-public partnerships. Either way, providers who plan to get a foothold in the Chinese EV charging landscape need to closely monitor consumer sentiment and customer feedback to stay on top of changing consumer preferences and technological advances.

References

[1] National Development and Reform Commission. Guidelines on Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Development (2015–2020). [Online] 2015. [Cited: 01 21, 2019.] http://www.ndrc.gov.cn/zcfb/zcfbtz/201511/t20151117_758762.html.

[2] Hefei, Zhang. Sixth Tone. The Race to Build China’s Ten Million Car Charging Stations. [Online] 12 6, 2017. [Cited: 1 21, 2019.] http://www.sixthtone.com/news/1001403/the-race-to-build-chinas-ten-million-car-charging-stations.

[3] CEVC. China Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Promotion Alliance. [Online] 2018. [Cited: 01 21, 2019.] http://219.234.95.6:9527/views/newsInfo.jsp?main=5&sub=46.

[4] Ying, X and Jing Xuan, T. Caixin Global. China’s Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Idle 85% of Time. [Online] Jan 22, 2018. [Cited: Jan 21, 2019.] https://www.caixinglobal.com/2018-01-22/chinas-electric-vehicle-charging-stations-idle-85-of-time-101201234.html.

[5] Poon, Linda. Citylab. Can China Support Its (Eventual) Ban on Gas Cars? [Online] Sep 14, 2017. [Cited: 01 21, 2019.] https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2017/09/chinas-ban-on-gas-power-cars-still-wont-solve-its-charging-challenge/539388/.

[6] Anacode GmbH. Weibo data. [Online] 2-8 2018.

[7] CGTN. China Global Television Network. EV charging stations blazing new trail in energy conservation, conversion in China. [Online] 6 7, 2018. [Cited: 1 21, 2019.] https://news.cgtn.com/news/3d3d414e7955544f77457a6333566d54/share_p.html.

[8] Wang, K. and Ke, Y. Public-Private Partnerships in the Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure in China: An Illustrative Case Study. Hindawi – Advances in Civil Engineering. 2018, Vol. Article ID 9061647, https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/9061647.